BENTON COUNTY, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — The judge that presided over a former Northwest Arkansas youth center employee’s rape conviction has scheduled a hearing to address the defense’s request for a new trial.

Hunter De La Garza, 24, was found guilty of raping a minor girl in the bathroom at the Promenade Mall in Rogers during a one-on-one outing in 2021. His attorney, Ben Catterlin, filed a motion seeking a new trial pursuant to Arkansas rules of criminal procedure on February 23.

Benton County circuit court judge Brad Karren signed an order on February 27 that scheduled a hearing on the motion for March 24.

In its February 23 motion, the defense alleged that the testimony of a witness introduced by the prosecution was “improper and reversible,” and he noted that the defense objected to it at the time. He addressed the witness’s expected testimony and said that an incident she referenced and the crime De La Garza was accused of had no common denominator to tie him to “proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity or absence of mistake or accident.”

The motion continued by explaining that testimony by the witness revealed another alleged rape by De La Garza when there was no other evidence of that in the record. It called the prosecution’s reference to that in front of the jury “highly improper and prejudicial.”

It went on to address statements the prosecution made about the defendant’s attorney, saying that it made “several attacks” against him during its closing, using a reference to his physical stature as a “purely derogatory attack” to “inflame the jury about the cross-examination of the victim.”

De La Garza was found unanimously guilty and sentenced to life in prison on January 20.